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A screen grab from L’s police interview video. L was 13 years old when she became pregnant as a result of an alleged rape.

Globe and Mail Update

Ottawa police have made an arrest in a previously closed rape investigation that was highlighted as part of a Globe and Mail probe into sex-assault complaints that are dismissed by police as unfounded.

The complainant, known as L, was 13 years old when she became pregnant as a result of the alleged rape. After having the baby, she went to police at the urging of her mother. Months after they met with a sergeant, L says they were told the case was being closed as "unfounded," – a term that means the investigating officer does not believe a crime occurred – because the suspect told police he was sterile. A copy of L's police file shows no evidence the detective asked for proof that the man could not have children. It also appears no attempts were made at the time to test the baby's DNA – the child had been put up for adoption.

On Wednesday, more than 18 years after L first went to police, investigators announced an arrest.

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"Ottawa Police has made an arrest of a male in regards to a case mentioned in the Globe and Mail Unfounded Series. The file was reopened after receiving new information that was not available at the time of the original complaint," Inspector Jamie Dunlop told The Globe in an e-mail.

"Ottawa Police take every report of sex assault seriously and will follow evidence to its conclusion. There will be no further comments on this file as it is now before the courts."

Police are not identifying the man at this time. He has been released on a promise to appear and is scheduled to be in court on Aug. 2.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, L, who is now 32, said she was "relieved" that police have acted after so many years, but she declined to comment further now that the case is before the courts.

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In February, The Globe launched its Unfounded series, the result of a 20-month investigation into how Canadian police services handle sexual-assault cases. The probe, which collected crime statistics from 873 police jurisdictions through hundreds of freedom-of-information requests, determined that across the country, police are nearly twice as likely to classify a sex-assault complainant as unfounded or baseless, compared with physical assault.

On average, one out of every five sex-assault complaints made to police between 2010 and 2014 was classified as unfounded. Once a case is closed in this way, it is no longer considered a valid allegation and is not reflected in local or national statistics.

In response to The Globe's reporting, about a third of the country's police services have committed to reviewing sex-assault cases. The majority of those audits are continuing. Last month, the Calgary Police Service announced that it had gone through 175 files and 48 had been misclassified as unfounded. One case was reopened as a result of the review, but L's complaint appears to be the first in the country that has resulted in an arrest.

Her file was one of 54 that The Globe examined as part of the series.

Her case dates back to March 30, 1999, about a year after L says she was raped. L was 14 when she met with the sergeant. A video of the police interview, which was obtained by The Globe, shows the young teen slouched on a couch at Ottawa police headquarters, with her arms wrapped tightly across her chest.

"I'd like to sit down and talk to you about certain allegations you made," the male officer says. "Why are you here?"

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"Because I. Just … " – L giggled – "I'm sorry. I'm nervous."

The sergeant would later tell her mother that he found the fact that L was giggling suspicious, although trauma experts say it is a common reaction – especially for a young teenage girl speaking with a male police officer about sexual acts.

L told the officer that about a year earlier, a male family friend had forced her to have sex. The man was in his late 20s at the time and she had been staying with him and his wife while her mother was out of town. Afterward, the man warned L not to tell anyone – and at first she didn't.

But more than six months later, L began to feel something moving inside of her. Until that point, she had no idea she was pregnant. She later gave birth and the child was put up for adoption.

The sergeant ended the interview 21 minutes and 40 seconds after it began. The only records included in L's police file are a short general occurrence report, a copy of a child-support worker's memo and L's video statement.

In November, 2015, Ontario's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which can give financial awards to victims of violent crime, awarded L $28,000. The board's legal test is similar to a civil proceeding. Decisions are based on a "balance of probabilities," rather than the higher "beyond a reasonable doubt" test used in criminal courts.

The board interviewed both the suspect and L. They were each encouraged to bring any documentation that would support their case. The evidence is protected under a publication ban, but in issuing its decision, the board stated that it had found L to be "clear, forthright and credible," while the suspect came off as "vague and inconsistent."

The Globe is only identifying L by one of her initials at her request.

The findings of a 20-month long investigation expose deep flaws in the way Canadian police forces handle sexual assault allegations. The Globe's Robyn Doolittle explains.
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